Collecting information about working conditions

One of the obstacles to organising among casualised academics is the difficulty we have in knowing how many casualised colleagues we have, who they are, or what their terms of employment are. Employers will almost never give us this information. Union branch officers can be a source of help, but are often hampered by a lack of information, for example when members regularly move between institutions without updating the Union, or work at more than one institution at once. Membership density among casualised staff is low too, unfortunately. In addition, casualised staff are likely to have heavy teaching burdens and/or be focused on producing enough research to win them an eventual permanent post. For all these reasons and more it can be hard both to identify the exact nature of casualisation at an institution and to mobilise around it.

In this position, it can be useful to organise a survey of casual staff at your institution, to find out what work they’re doing, which departments they’re doing it in, how much they get paid, whether (or to what extent!) they end up doing extra unpaid work, whether they have a contract, and so on. A survey can be useful not just as a way of gathering information, but as a starting point (or continuing point) for a campaign and a way to mobilise colleagues. Such a survey can be set up to run online through a website like surveymonkey.com, though it’s useful to promote it through offline means like posters, flyers, and face to face discussions too. There are more ideas about setting up this kind of campaign on the FACE wiki page, which is at http://fightingcasualisation.wikidot.com/

FACE members at City University who are required to teach as part of their research studentships set up the Research Students who Teach survey. It is attached here as an example of the kinds of questions that might be asked, though of course these will vary from case to case.

City FACE members will be releasing the results of this survey soon and moving on to the next stage of their campaign. Watch this space for details!

Victory for King’s College London GTAs (but the fight isn’t over yet…)

GTAs at King's College London

What has been won and what remains to be done? In our final post of 2015/6, Fair Pay for GTAs takes stock of our achievements thus far and outlines plans for the future.

The academic year is winding down and those Graduate Teaching Assistants who’ve signed up to teach again in the new term will notice some improvements to their contracts! These significant gains were made possible by the courage and dedication of all those who contributed to our campaign.

From the organisers to the GTAs and students who signed our petitions to the union reps who fought alongside us, each and every one of you deserves a well-earned pat on the back.

First thing’s first: what exactly have we managed to win for GTAs in 2016/7 and how does it compare to where we started/what we asked for?

1) Essay marking

  • 2015/6: 5,000 words per-hour
  • What we asked for:…

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#UnisResistBorderControls Campaign Zine Project

Three months ago, the Justice4Sanaz campaign launched the #UnisResistBorderControls campaign at SOAS. This urgent campaign brings together grassroots activists and campaigners to oppose widespread abuses against non-EU international students and staff within the British higher education system.

The neoliberal higher education system in the UK is guilty of marginalising non-EU international scholars and students. Universities use non-EU international students, especially those who are Black and people of colour (POC), as “cash cows” to prop up a neoliberal university system that exploits non-EU, EU and British students for their tuition fees. Meanwhile, VCs enjoy pay-rises and inflated six figure salaries. In addition, as Fighting Against Casualisation in Education has consistently shown, the neoliberal higher education system marginalizes lecturers and university workers on casual contracts, contracts which disproportionately affect women, Black people, and POC.

The university also works hand in hand with the Home Office and UK Visa and Immigration (UKVI) to effectively act as border control on campus. Non-EU international students, academics, lecturers and university workers routinely are met with state and institutional violence because of their immigration status. As a result, these groups often feel isolated and marginalised within the Ivory Tower. Both universities and the Home Office use this isolation to further abuse and treat with contempt non-EU international university students and workers. This year, a report showed that Home Office Secretary Theresa May wrongfully deported almost 50,000 non-EU international students. Similarly, reports continue to emerge of non-EU international students and researchers being detained by UKVI and placed into detention centres; see, for example, the case of Dr Paul Hamilton, who was arrested and detained for 10 days at the Morton Hall Immigration Removal Centre with no warning while his application to stay in the UK was in the midst of being processed. Kate Blagojevic from the campaign Detention Action explained in this Guardian piece about Morton Hall,

“People are held without time limit in high-security immigration detention centres such as Morton Hall. Their mental and physical health deteriorates rapidly and they often find it hard to access legal representation. People can be held for months or even years but ultimately don’t know how long they will be locked up for.”

In 2014, the Justice4Sanaz campaign chronicled the exploitation of non-EU students and lecturers alike in a statement published in Ceasefire Magazine. In that statement, which was endorsed by over 100 academics and activists, we implored the UK “to speak out and take the lead as professionals and intellectuals against turning the country’s higher education institutions into a racist money making endeavour, destroying the spirit and integrity of the very idea of knowledge and learning.”

Also in 2014, the National Union of Students (NUS) and the Black Students Campaign (BSC) passed motion 102, entitled, “Black International Students.” In this motion, the NUS and the BSC resolved to support Black international students by creating a “know your legal rights” workshop and to campaign to “eliminate discrimination from any attendance monitoring practices.” However, in the past two years, the NUS and BSC have failed to act on this motion, or to work with grassroots groups to challenge racist and xenophobic policies within higher education institutions and the Home Office.

This brief history shows that while student activists and the public are aware that the current immigration controls affect refugees, asylum seekers and those languishing inside detention centres, very few consider how immigration policy affects non-EU international students, scholars, and university workers. There has been very little done by student and community activists to counter the exploitative surveillance regime instituted by the Home Office. Urgent solidarity and action is needed to protect not only asylum seekers and refugees, but also non-EU international students, scholars, and staff.

In response to this need, on the 5th of March, #UnisResistBorderControls had our first meeting. We were joined by representatives from Movement for Justice By Any Means Necessary, SOAS Justice for Cleaners, Fighting Against Casualisation in Education (FACE), #DontDeportLuqman campaign, and the Save Kelechi campaign along with a barrister specialising in immigration law from Garden Court Chambers, Ms Bryony Poynor, who discussed at length about the changing landscape of immigration laws and policy.

A write up of the meeting can be accessed here.

Three weeks after our meeting, we wrote a statement that was published on Media Diversified and endorsed by over 40 academics and activists, stating:

“#UnisResistBorderControls wants to see a fundamental end to UKVI and PREVENT surveillance and the intimidation of non-EU international students, scholars and university workers. We want to see universities and unions take a strong stand against such policies and to cease using these racist and xenophobic measures to disenfranchise and marginalize non-EU international students, scholars, and university workers. We want to see provisions in place for non-EU internationals to be able to seek recourse against their higher education institutions without it affecting their visa-status and/or having their precarious immigration status repeatedly threatened. We call on British students, lecturers and university workers to not collude or be complicit with the border controls culture on university campuses. #UnisResistBorderControls stands in solidarity with Luqman Onikosi (#DontDeportLuqman), Kelechi Chioba (#SaveKelechi), Lord Elias Mensah Apetsi (#SaveLord), Sanaz Raji (#Justice4Sanaz) and the many other non-EU international students, scholars and university workers who are not publicly known, but are oppressed by both Home Office violence and exploitation by their universities. End border controls and the culture of surveillance on our campuses!”

As the next step in our campaign, #UnisResistBorderControls will assemble a zine in which non-EU international students, academics and university workers outline their experiences within higher education and with the Home Office. The zine will also include a “know your legal rights” section.

With the support of FACE, we are collecting testimonies, stories and art work from non-EU international students, lecturers, and university workers who have face institutional and state violence to include in this zine. We plan to publish the zine in the 2016-2017 academic year.

Topics for discussion in this zine include:

– Racism and xenophobia on and off campus

– Being denied the right to rent because of your visa status and/or having difficulties in finding a place to rent because you are non-EU international (especially Black and POC)

– Home Office & UK Visa and Immigration

– Sexism & Sexuality

– Disability discrimination

– Employment discrimination

– Lack of academic and pastoral support

– Mental health issues

– Bullying and mobbing in higher education

Please send your testimonies, stories, and artwork that might relate to any of the topics outlined above. Please indicate in your message if you would like to have your name cited with your contribution, or if you would prefer to remain anonymous. Finally, please include the university at which the incident occurred, along with your course (BA/BS, MA/MS or PhD). Send all materials to: unisresistbordercontrols@gmail.com.

Photo: UK Border, Terminal 4, London Heathrow by David McKelvey

Flyer for UCU National Strike (May 25-26)

FACE has produced a flyer for the two-day UCU national pay strike. Download it here, print it off and hand it out on your picket line! We believe that creating a fair and equal higher education system is about much more than headline pay figures: we’re striking to resist the racial and gender pay gap, unpaid teaching and the broader spread of casualisation. If you support these aims, please take a minute to Tweet a picture of yourself with the flyer to @FACEanticas.

Still No Fair Deal for Hourly-Paid Teaching Staff at QMUL

Photo: Pooley House, by TECU Consulting UK

Queen Mary Against Casualisation

Queen Mary is one of the worst institutions in the country for its reliance on casualised teaching staff. 66.1% of teaching at the university is delivered by staff on precarious contracts. This is precisely what QMAC have been campaigning against over the last two years.

Queen Mary university has finally decided to review some hourly paid teaching staff’s pay and conditions, and accepted the need to integrate them into the pay spine — something that should have happened 8 years ago.

Whilst QMAC welcomes the decision to treat us like any other employees of the university, there are some worrying developments in the manner in which HR are proposing to implement these changes. Previously TA pay was paid on a 2.5 multiplier — meaning that the pay for each hour of teaching was multiplied by 2.5 in order to accommodate preparation and marking. The university is now proposing to…

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Yes to the pay campaign, but more importantly, yes to a proper fight against casualisation!

If you are a member of the University and College Union (UCU) and work in Higher Education, over the past couple of weeks you will almost certainly have been bombarded with emails, adverts and messages exhorting you to vote YES to strike action over this year’s pay offer. You will also have received a ballot through the post giving you the opportunity to vote for a strike or to vote for action short of a strike.

There are, as there usually is during our national pay negotiations, plenty of reasons to vote for a strike. As the UCU points out there’s the sustained decline in our real wages (14.5% since 2010), the ongoing pay gap between men and women (£6,103 a year), the number of teachers and researchers in Higher Education on fixed term and casual contracts, including the 21,000 teaching staff on zero-hour contracts. For those reasons, we at FACE give a resounding YES to national strike action this Autumn and we’re happy that the union has raised casualisation in the sector as one of their demands.

However… We are, like many people in Higher Education, wary about what exactly a YES vote will mean. We’re wary that what it will mean is HE workers being marched to the top of the hill for a single 2-day strike, staying there for a brief, half-hearted marking ban, before being marched back down again when the employers offer us another fraction of a percent. We’re wary that little effort will be made to energise branches and improve union organisation in Higher Education. We’re wary that activists will be wound up to fight, but that the official union will be looking to de-escalate as quickly as possible. We’re wary of being told that the dispute is about a long list of things but that, in the end, a pay increase will be all that really matters.

And we’re wary because to a great extent that is exactly what happened in 2013-14. Back then the joint pay demand put forward by the UCU, UNISON and Unite contained a whole bunch of lovely goodies. There was an end to low pay, action on the gender pay gap, a cap on Vice-Chancellor pay, an increase in London Weighting, an end to zero-hour contracts, fractional salaries with time for admin and prep for all hourly-paid staff, new agreements on disability leave, and agreements on limiting workloads. But what was the actual substance of the fight our unions waged? How often did the union talk about anything other than the headline percentage figure? How much progress has been made on those issues, given that they’ve been raised in almost the exact same format two years later?

Our experiences of the UCU’s priorities in previous fights have made us wary of our union’s priorities. We worry that these issues will be treated as marginal, when to the people our unions are seeking to represent, they’re really not. For casualised workers in Higher Education, pieceing together fixed-term, hourly or zero-hour contracts, being paid for a fraction of the time they actually spend working, an extra 0.5% doesn’t mean very much. 0.5% on a casual contract is 0.5% of whatever we can cobble together and 0.5% of whatever arbitrary number of hours our employer decides we are working. We worry that any progress the UCU makes on the gender pay gap will inevitably be partial, and slanted towards senior permanent faculty, if the casualisation which disproportionately affects women and people of colour is once again sidelined.

Moreover, we worry that with the rise of temp agencies like Unitemps and the now dead (and unmourned) TeachHigher, as well as the point blank refusal of universities to consider taking low-paid catering, security and cleaning staff, back in house, there will still be many thousands working in HE for whom national action on pay will bring not even the meagre benefit in-house casualised staff will get.

We worry, but we have hope. We have hope that this time YES will mean something more. Not just YES to a fight over a percentage point on our hourly rate, but YES to a real fight over what employment in Higher Education really means. YES to a real end to zero-hour contracts across the sector. YES to an end to gender pay discrimination. YES to realistic job descriptions that pay for every hour worked. YES to an end to contracting out exploitation to unscrupulous employment agencies. YES to really, genuinely dismantling discrimination in Higher Education. YES to mobilising casualised staff and permanent staff to fight against all forms of exploitation in Higher Education.

YES to all these, and YES to making them central not marginal to our fight in 2016.

Photo: ‘UCU’, by Simarchy.